Audio recording shows frustration with Berkeley

As the COVID crisis threatened to derail Cal’s season in early November, confusion escalated within the football schedule.

Why have a handful of cases resulted in mass testing of players and staff?

Why was a program with strict safety protocols publicly announced by city of Berkeley health officials, supposedly causing shame among players on campus?

And most importantly, why did a program with a 99% vaccination rate become the only major college football team to have a game rescheduled because of the virus?

Coach Justin Wilcox has been measured in his public comments throughout the two-week crisis. But privately, Wilcox and others have been deeply frustrated with the university’s handling of the situation, according to a recording of a virtual meeting between the parents of the team, Wilcox and Cal’s medical officials who were obtained by this news organization.

Halfway through the hour-long meeting, the topic turned to the statement released by Berkeley Public Health, which included previously unpublished case data and criticized the Bears for their “ongoing” failure to keep up with them. public health protocols.

During a tense exchange, Wilcox asked Assistant Vice Chancellor Guy Nicolette, who oversees university health services, if the statement violated players’ privacy.

Nicolette explained that he disagreed with the tone of the statement – “I did not find this helpful” – but declined to comment on the privacy issue, dismissing the issue. to the university legal team.

Wilcox was not satisfied.

“Who fights for we? ”Wilcox asked in a passionate but controlled voice, according to the audio recording.

“I took the high road,” he continued. “We take the high road, so as not to get into a public conflict with a city agency. So whose role is it? … Everyone is wondering.

Indeed, there are plenty of unanswered questions about the crisis that blinded the Bears for two weeks – all rooted in two fundamental but seemingly incongruous facts:

1. Why Cal?

There have been around 800 major college football games this season, but only two are known to have been deeply affected by COVID: Cal’s visit to Arizona, in which the Bears had a rudimentary roster, and the date. Cal’s subsequent with USC, which had to be rescheduled for Dec. 4 because many players were in COVID protocol.

This was a striking development for a program that is 99% vaccinated and, according to Wilcox, adheres to COVID protocols recommended by Berkeley Public Health and the university. (The Department of Health statement accusing the team of violating protocol did not cite any specific cases.)

2. How did the crisis come about?

According to information obtained by this news agency, the university tested 172 members of the football program, including players (around 100), coaches, staff and volunteers. The results revealed 46 positive cases, including 31 symptomatic, according to the university. It is not known how many players have tested positive or symptomatic.

The exchange between Wilcox and Nicolette, the head of university health services, underlines the frustration within the football program with the handling of the situation.

Asked days later about criticism of Berkeley Public Health, Wilcox told reporters:

“Is everyone perfect to follow each protocol?” I don’t know if I could say that. We are doing our best. I have never had a meeting on the blatant disrespect of our players. I did not have this meeting.

“Should we remind people from time to time to put on their masks?” Did someone tell me that? Yeah, absolutely. And I also think there might be some people in the city of Berkeley walking the streets or going to church or dinner or whatever, maybe students on campus, who might fall for it. same category.

He was not so impartial during the virtual meeting with the university’s health officials and parents on the team.

According to sources, around 100 people were on the call. Most were team parents. Some were football staff. A few were members of Cal’s medical team.

And then there was Steve Etter, who played two roles.

Etter is a longtime lecturer at the Haas School of Business and teaches a course in financial management for athletes. (His alumni include quarterback Jared Goff, NBA star Jaylen Brown, and Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin.) He’s also a former administrator of Cal. And he’s the parent of a current player, longtime snapper Daniel Etter.

Etter not only listened to the virtual meeting, but was an active participant and repeatedly asked medical experts for answers. In fact, Etter asked the most difficult questions of all, especially regarding the lack of public support for the football program.

“The question is: who is defending our cause? Etter asked Nicolette. “Is anyone going to plead? Or is it just no, no one is going to defend?

In response to a request for comment from Nicolette, university spokesperson Janet Gilmore made the following statement:

“Your questions relate to a conversation between doctors (from University Health Services), student-athletes and their parents about athlete health. Therefore, we are not going to discuss the details of this meeting.

“Regarding the broader issue related to the Berkeley Public Health statement, campus leaders have focused and continue to focus on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 by working productively with colleagues on and off campus – without committing to public support and onward. Additionally, please keep in mind that the campus is an employer and educator, not a health service.

“The university cannot publicly comment on the substance of the BPH statement because we are not permitted to comment on information derived from medical records. The university was not given the opportunity to erase BPH’s statement prior to its publication. “

Reached by phone a few days later, Etter explained why he had so forcefully pushed back Nicolette, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

“The athletes had a lot of negative reverberations on campus (during the crisis),” he said. “I thought the record should be set to avoid all the negativity the kids were getting as a result of this (statement).

“The high voice and direct approach was due to the fact that I have a high regard for Justin Wilcox. He asked a question, and I don’t have a lot of respect for fancy answers.

Not all of the responses provided during the call were of the “fantasy dance” type.

Nicolette was straightforward in her assessment of the Berkeley Public Health statement, which included the following but offered no details:

“Program participants do not have:
– Get tested in case of illness
– Stay at home in case of illness
– Wear masks indoors »

Nicolette said during the meeting:

“The statement issued by Berkeley Public Health has not been reviewed by University Health, by myself, or by anyone else to my knowledge. It was not at the request of (the university) and I disagree with the statement.

“There was a lot of fact to it, and it’s true. But I just don’t agree with the disclosure of this information, especially in the tone and manner in which it was disclosed. And I said it directly to the public health official. “

At this point in the discussion, Wilcox stepped in: “You said it was largely factual. Which parts? “

“The fact that there is an epidemic… I agree with the numbers they cited,” replied Nicolette. “I don’t have the press release in front of me, so I can’t choose it point by point, but some information was taken directly from the contact tracing. Again, I’m concerned about the disclosure of confidential information through this contract research process. Where they have the right, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

Wilcox continued, “We can ask the experts here. Was there a breach of privacy rights in the Berkeley Declaration? … Would you consider this a violation of privacy? “

Nicolette: “I wouldn’t. It’s probably more for the legal team to answer.

Wilcox: “You don’t agree with some of what has been said. You mentioned it.

Nicolette: “Yes, I did.”

Wilcox: “For who fights we? … I took the high road. We take the high road, so as not to get into a public conflict with a city agency. So whose role is it? To advocate for what we’re doing, let’s try to do and following their guidelines, between the City of Berkeley, University Health Services – the guidelines that have been set and that we follow. Is it (the) sports department? And maybe you don’t know the answer to that. Everyone is wondering.

Nicolette: “I know what I know. I certainly don’t know what other people are doing or not doing… We’ve been working with (Berkeley Public Health) to try to figure out how they want us to implement state and city protocols.

Etter intervened.

“Let me ask you again the part that Justin asked in his question, Vice Chancellor,” he said. “If other vice-chancellors are criticized for an area within their power, and it is unfair – in other words, parts of the Berkeley declaration were unfair – there is a press conference and a retaliation. .

“And I think what Justin was asking was that everyone on that call took the high road. You are the top guy as the vice chancellor. I saw all the other vice chancellors and chancellors on the news, I saw our public relations manager. There were several facts, and our children, as they walk around Berkeley now, as seen by other students, are looked at and frowned upon, based on false information.

“So Justin’s question was very specific: what are you doing to defend football? “

Nicolette: “You gave me a promotion that I didn’t win. I just want to clarify that I am not the vice-chancellor. In direct answer to your question, my approach is really twofold. First, we absolutely need to monitor Berkeley’s public health and – “

Etter: “The question is who is defending us? Is someone going to defend or is it just no, nobody is going to defend?

Nicolette: “I’m just telling you what I’m doing in my approach.

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